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“Just Pretend 9/11 Never Happened”: Dick Cheney Boasts Of 7 1/2-Year Record Of Preventing Terrorism

Dick Cheney, reports The Wall Street Journal’s Patrick O’Connor, has a new book coming out in September, as well as “a Darth Vader trailer-hitch cover, a nod to his alter-ego from the Bush days,” and also a slightly new way of defending his administration’s record of protecting Americans from terrorist attacks. Cheney now tells O’Connor his policies “kept us safe for 7½ years.”

The usual Republican line is that Bush and Cheney “kept us safe,” full stop. The “he kept us safe” line has always been slightly tricky owing to the fact that foreign terrorist attacks killed more Americans during the Bush administration than every other presidency in history combined. The easiest way to handle this tiny fly in the ointment (and the related problems of Bush ignoring serious warnings of imminent attacks) is to pretend it never happened. To wit, Jeb Bush yesterday defended his brother’s administration like so: “Well, the successes clearly are protecting the homeland. We were under attack, and he brought — he unified the country and he showed dogged determination. And he kept us safe.”

But a small part of Cheney has always felt the lawyerly compunction to phrase his defense in a technically accurate fashion. In an August 2009 Fox News interview, Cheney worked the phrase “eight years” into his defense of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism record:

I’m very proud of what we did in terms of defending the nation for the last eight years successfully. …

I think they were directly responsible for the fact that for eight years we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States. …

we had a track record now of eight years of defending the nation against any further mass casualty attacks from Al Qaida.

Cheney could say “eight years” because the interview took place eight years after the enormous mass-casualty attack that occurred on his watch. “Eight years” is a nice-sounding phrase, because it matches the length of his term in office. His eight-year figure took the last seven and a half years of Bush plus the first six months of Obama to arrive at a nice, round sum.

In 2013, Cheney altered the boast somewhat, to castigate the Obama administration for having been caught by surprise by the attacks at Benghazi. “When we were there, on our watch, we were always ready on 9/11, on the anniversary,” he scolded. Cheney was about to insist that the Bush administration had been prepared to stop a terrorist attack on every 9/11, then realized that there was that one huge exception, so he changed it slightly. Under their watch, Americans enjoyed seven terrorism-free September 11s out of eight.

And now he’s been reduced to “kept us safe for 7½ years.” It doesn’t have quite the same ring, given that most people are aware that presidential administrations govern in numbers divisible by four. It is somewhat reminiscent of a circa-2000 Onion article imagining George W. Bush suspiciously refusing to deny a 1984 mass murder for which he appeared guilty. (“On Jan. 20, during a radio interview on Pittsburgh’s KDKA, he said he has ‘not committed a single mass murder in the past 16 years’ — just one day after making a similar comment mentioning 15 years.”) That odd fastidiousness in the service of massive dishonesty has become the most charming element of the Cheney post-presidency.


By: Jonathan Chait, The Dail Intelligencer, New York Magazine, June 1, 2015

June 2, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Dick Cheney, National Security | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bush’s Willful Ignorance”: Why He Wanted To Know As Little About Torture As Possible

It’s happening more than 10 years too late (and in a better world it wouldn’t need to happen at all), but now that the Senate Intelligence Committee has released its so-called torture report, the American people are finally having an informed debate over their government’s use of “enhanced interrogation” during the presidency of George W. Bush. The process is not always pretty — at times, in fact, it is downright chilling. But now that we know some of the harrowing details of what was done in our name, it’ll be easier for us Americans to step a bit closer to the mirror and see what we’ve become. As Glenn Greenwald put it earlier this week, “Everybody’s noses got rubbed in [the torture program] by this report.”

Still, the human brain has an awesome capacity to reject information it finds upsetting — like proof that one’s leaders embraced practices refined by the Bolsheviks and the Gestapo. At least that’s my explanation for why some people would rather talk about alleged partisanship than “rectal rehydration.” Or why there’s been increasing focus on the question of whether the CIA “misled”  President Bush about the effectiveness of the program, as well as its essential nature. The whining from conservatives over the Committee not interviewing CIA agents is a red herring, of course (as Chris Hayes has noted, arguments about process are almost uniformly disingenuous). But I think the chatter about Bush the Younger really being Bush the Clueless gets to something deeper.

Before we get into that, though, let’s lay out the basic thrust of the Bush-as-patsy narrative. The key data point for the argument, which the report’s authors say is based on the CIA’s own records, is the fact that Bush wasn’t officially briefed on the agency’s use of waterboarding until 2006. By that point, CIA agents had been subjecting “more than three dozen prisoners” to a series of “near drownings” for years. The report also found that when the president was told of some of the program’s details — specifically, the practice of chaining alleged “evildoers” to the ceiling and forcing them to soil themselves — he “expressed discomfort.” He was, after all, the ultimate compassionate conservative.

Admittedly, there’s much in this formulation that’s seductive, confirming as it does a few widely held beliefs about Bush and his administration. For one thing, it jibes perfectly with the trope that depicts Bush as little more than a figurehead, the emptiest of suits. For another, because the torture program has been so vociferously defended by the former vice president, the story also seems to confirm the related suspicion that, for most of the Bush era, Dick Cheney was the real president. Last but not least, the idea that Bush was kept in the dark (not literally; that was reserved for detainees) lines up with another popular Bush motif: that he was, at least for a commander-in-chief, a “regular guy,” just like us, and not a sadistic authoritarian.

To paraphrase CIA Director John Brennan’s remarks this week, what Bush knew and when he knew it is “unknowable” to the rest of us. And to some extent, depending on how much “discomfort” he feels over being a war criminal, it may not even be knowable to him. All the same, there are a few signs that the Bush-as-patsy explanation is a little too pat. And there are historical reasons to believe that he not only knew enough to be culpable, but that he purposefully avoided finding out more than the bare minimum of what he needed. As Andrew Sullivan put it recently, there was “a desire not to know, not to have direct and explicit knowledge of what was actually being done, because of the immense gravity of the crimes.”

The first, most obvious, reason to question whether Bush really knew so little is the fact that in “Decision Points,” his listicle-cum-memoir, he claims to have directly given the thumbs-up in 2002 when the CIA asked if Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking al-Qaeda detainee, could be waterboarded. “I thought about the 2,971 people stolen from their families by al Qaeda on 9/11,” Bush writes. “And I thought about my duty to protect my country from another act of terror.” After so judiciously weighing his duty to protect Americans from harm (which up to that point he hadn’t done so well) against his obligation not to be a war criminal, Bush came to his conclusion: “’Damn right,’ I said.”

Of course, just because Bush had his ghostwriter Christopher Michel include this anecdote in his book doesn’t make it true. As a New York Times article on Bush’s response to allegedly being misled suggests, it’s quite possible that Bush is lying about giving the go-ahead to torture Zubaydah in order to shield the CIA — as well as to mitigate his embarrassment. “I suspect,” Sullivan writes in the post I mentioned previously, “Bush decided that, in his book, he had a duty to provide cover for the people who worked for him.” But even if you reject that explanation, there’s still good reason to doubt Bush was on the periphery — or, to be more precise, he was more marginalized than he may have wanted.

That reason has a name: Richard Bruce Cheney, also known as the United States’ most powerful vice president. The theory here isn’t that Cheney was doing a whole lot of dirty work behind Bush’s back, but rather that he had taken the gloves off with the tacit encouragement and approval of the president. As Cheney-watchers — especially the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and former Cheney co-worker John Dean — have noted, Cheney’s experience in the Nixon administration during its final days did not lead him to the same conclusion as most of us, that an unchecked president is dangerous for American democracy, but instead to conclude that Watergate was proof that if you’re going to break the law, you’d better do it in a way that insulates the president. And as Greenwald noted in my interview with him this week, and historian Sean Wilentz wrote about in a 2007 New York Times op-ed, Cheney reached a similar conclusion after Iran-Contra (which, like Watergate, he believed to be a power grab by Democrats).

Plausible deniability, in other words, is the key phrase to understand what Bush “knew” about the global network of torture chambers and dungeons that will stand as one of the most enduring legacies of his tenure as president. And I suppose in a bitter, depressing way, that’s all too fitting. Because while Bush is the American who bears the most responsibility for the evil unleashed by the United States in the wake of 9/11, the truth is that all of American society let fear and panic overwhelm its values and senses; all of American society was desperately willing to believe that impossible promise: that it had nothing to fear. And when the true costs of its panic and its terror began to float to the surface, all of American society was content to ask no further questions, and to look the other way.


By: Elias Isquith, Salon, December 13, 2014

December 14, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, George W Bush, Torture | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Manifestly Immoral And Clearly Illegal”: Senate Report Shows That The U.S. Answered Evil With Evil

The “debate” over torture is almost as grotesque as torture itself. There can be no legitimate debate about the intentional infliction of pain upon captive and defenseless human beings. The torturers and their enablers may deny it, but they know — and knew from the beginning — that what they did was obscenely wrong.

We relied on legal advice , the torturers say. We were just following orders. We believed the ends justified the means. It is nauseating to hear such pathetic excuses from those who, in the name of the United States, sanctioned or committed acts that long have been recognized as war crimes.

According to the Senate intelligence committee report on the treatment of detainees after the 9/11 attacks, members of a CIA interrogation team were “profoundly affected . . . some to the point of tears and choking up” at the brutal treatment in 2002 of an important al-Qaeda detainee named Abu Zubaida.

Captured in Pakistan and whisked to a secret facility in Thailand, Zubaida was initially cooperative, willingly providing answers under normal, non-coercive questioning. But the CIA abruptly halted his interrogation, placed him in isolation for 47 days and then began a regime of astonishing and gratuitous cruelty.

Torturers slammed him against walls, confined him in coffin-size boxes for a total of nearly 300 hours and subjected him to 83 sessions of waterboarding, which simulates drowning — a practice for which Japanese war criminals were tried, convicted and harshly punished following World War II. After one waterboarding assault, according to the Senate report, Zubaida was “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

In all, 119 detainees were held in the CIA’s archipelago of secret prisons, according to the report; at least 26 of them were wrongfully detained and never should have been arrested in the first place.

The report says 39 prisoners were tortured with what the administration of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney called “enhanced interrogation techniques” — a chilling bit of Orwellian newspeak. They were kept awake for up to 180 hours, often standing, sometimes in “stress” positions designed to induce pain. Their arms were shackled above their heads. They were stripped naked and placed in ice baths. At least five prisoners were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or “rectal feeding.” While the CIA says only three detainees were waterboarded, Senate investigators found waterboarding equipment at a site where supposedly no such torture took place.

We know of two men who were tortured to death. One of them, Gul Rahman, was held at a facility in Afghanistan that the Senate report refers to as COBALT, described in a CIA memo as a “dungeon.” Rahman was put in a dank, frigid cell wearing only a shirt — no pants or underwear — and chained so that he had to sit or lie on a bare concrete floor. He was found dead the next morning, apparently of hypothermia. The other man, Manadel al-Jamadi, died in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq after being beaten and shackled to a window.

The report seeks to demonstrate that the torture was useless because valuable information in the fight against al-Qaeda came from conventional interrogation methods, not the brutal treatment. Torture’s apologists — including Cheney, who says he’d “do it again in a minute” — claim otherwise. This dispute cannot be settled. No one can say that a name, date or phone number extracted by torture could never have been obtained by other means.

But efficacy is not the point. What matters is not whether torture produces more information or less. What matters is that torture is manifestly immoral — and clearly illegal under U.S. and international law.

The CIA says it relied on Bush administration legal opinions attesting that torture is not really torture. The Senate report shows, however, that the CIA was less than honest in its representations to the Justice Department lawyers about what was being done to the detainees. Again, this argument misses the big picture: Those who ordered and committed torture would not be so eager to hide behind a paper-thin legalistic veneer if they truly believed what they did was right.

Why would the CIA officer in charge of the program destroy all videotapes of waterboarding sessions? Why would the agency fight the Senate investigators so fiercely, at one point hacking into the committee’s computers? Why would there be such a coordinated attempt by torture’s apologists to steer the “debate” toward subsidiary questions and away from the central issue?

There is only one answer: They decided to answer evil with evil rather than with justice. And they knew it was wrong.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 11, 2014

December 14, 2014 Posted by | CIA, Torture, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who’s Soft On Terror Now?

By the time U.S. Navy SEALs shot Osama bin Laden dead in his Pakistan hideaway, he was already becoming a historical anachronism. During his 10 years of running and hiding, events had passed him by. In the end, he appeared more David Koresh than Hitler or Napoleon — a religious zealot imprisoned by his own homicidal delusions, and little more.

“I am confident that Muslims will be able to end the legend of the so-called superpower that is America,” bin Laden once said. Like most fanatics, however, he failed to grasp the resilience of our democracy. America had largely recovered from the terrible strategic blunders that fear and outrage over the 9/11 atrocity had driven it to.

Al-Qaida’s hope was to lure the United States into Afghanistan, where they imagined it would destroy itself like the Soviet Union. That the neoconservative cabal inside the Bush administration would use the attack to justify invading Iraq provided an unanticipated propaganda boost.

The U.S., bin Laden told a CNN interviewer in 1997, “wants to occupy our countries, steal our resources, impose agents on us to rule us and then wants us to agree to this … If we refuse to do so, it says we are terrorists.”

But images of Abu Ghraib faded as Iraq’s fratricidal strife yielded to steadfast military and diplomatic effort; America’s intention to leave Iraq became clear. Recent political tumult across the Arab world has owed nothing to bin Laden’s fever dream of a restored Islamic empire.

Writing from Benghazi, Libya, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen celebrated the liberation of “the captive Arab mind.”

“Bin Laden’s rose-tinged caliphate was the solace of the disenfranchised, the disempowered and the desperate,” Cohen added. “A young guy with a job, a vote and prospects does not need virgins in paradise.”

None of which should diminish our satisfaction at bin Laden’s death. I happened to be watching the Phillies-Mets game Sunday night when spontaneous cheers of “USA, USA!” broke out as fans got the news on their cellphones. For once, ESPN delivered a non-sports headline at the bottom of the screen.

My brother the Mets fan called the next day to express his feelings. Thirteen people from our New Jersey hometown, he reminded me, died on 9/11. I didn’t know any of them personally, but he knew several victims. Nothing can bring the victims back or erase their loved ones’ pain. Avenging those deaths, however, brought exactly what President Obama said it did: justice.

Bin Laden could have surrendered. Instead, he took the easy way out. Good riddance to him.

Everybody’s got their own way of remembering. Me, I get out my “Concert for New York” DVD and watch the Who turn Madison Square Garden upside down with a thunderous rendition of “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” — maybe the most powerful rock anthem ever written — for an audience of uniformed New York cops, firefighters and EMTs.

Announcing themselves honored to be invited, the English band played in front of a huge projection of the U.S. flag, the Union Jack and the World Trade Center. I can’t watch it dry-eyed. Everybody in the crowd looks like my cousin or somebody I grew up with.

No doubt you’ve got your own 9/11 memories. The question is: What to do with those thoughts and emotions now? Will the feelings of unity — those cheering fans in Philadelphia were Democrats and Republicans alike — bring about a lessening of partisan political anger?

President George W. Bush was quick to offer congratulations. Even Dick Cheney was gracious for once. It was Cheney’s classless accusation that President Obama was risking national security by dropping the “Global War on Terror” trope that set the tone for strident rejection of his legitimacy.

Soft on terror? Obama not only accomplished what the previous administration hadn’t done in eight years of trying, he’d put his presidency on the line. Had the SEALs’ mission in Pakistan failed like President Carter’s 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran, the recriminations would never have ended. Instead, it revealed Obama as one tough, shrewd cookie.

“For most Americans,” writes the New Yorker’s George Packer, “the killing of Osama bin Laden is the equivalent of a long-form birth certificate in establishing Barack Obama’s bona fides as commander-in-chief.”

Realistically, however, not much has changed except American self-confidence. The truth is that the nation panicked somewhat after 9/11. Anxious to find an opponent worthy of their own revolutionary romanticism, Bush administration neoconservatives turned Osama bin Laden into a virtual Hitler to suit their own Churchillian fantasies.

“Islamofascism” they called it. Enraged and distraught, many Americans bought it. Except that bin Laden’s deluded followers posed no military threat to the integrity of the United States or any Western nation. At worst they were capable of theatrical acts of mass murder like the 9/11 attacks.

And that was sufficient evil indeed.

By: Gene Lyons, Salon War Room, May 4, 2011

May 5, 2011 Posted by | 911, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Muslims, National Security, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crowing” And The Torture Apologists

The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jose Rodriguez Jr. was the leader of counterterrorism for the C.I.A. from 2002-2005 when Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Al Qaeda leaders were captured. He told Time magazine that the recent events show that President Obama should not have banned so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. (Mr. Rodriguez, you may remember, ordered the destruction of interrogation videos.)

John Yoo, the former Bush Justice Department lawyer who twisted the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions into an unrecognizable mess to excuse torture, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the killing of Bin Laden proved that waterboarding and other abuses were proper. Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, said at first that no coerced evidence played a role in tracking down Bin Laden, but by Tuesday he was reciting the talking points about the virtues of prisoner abuse.

There is no final answer to whether any of the prisoners tortured in President George W. Bush’s illegal camps gave up information that eventually proved useful in finding Bin Laden. A detailed account in The Times on Wednesday by Scott Shane and Charlie Savage concluded that torture “played a small role at most” in the years and years of painstaking intelligence and detective work that led a Navy Seals team to Bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.

That squares with the frequent testimony over the past decade from many other interrogators and officials. They have said repeatedly, and said again this week, that the best information came from prisoners who were not tortured. The Times article said Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, fed false information to his captors during torture.

Even if it were true that some tidbit was blurted out by a prisoner while being tormented by C.I.A. interrogators, that does not remotely justify President Bush’s decision to violate the law and any acceptable moral standard.

This was not the “ticking time bomb” scenario that Bush-era officials often invoked to rationalize abusive interrogations. If, as Representative Peter King, the Long Island Republican, said, information from abused prisoners “directly led” to the redoubt, why didn’t the Bush administration follow that trail years ago?

There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive. The Bush administration’s abuses — and ends justify the means arguments — did huge damage to this country’s standing and gave its enemies succor and comfort. If that isn’t enough, there is also the pragmatic argument that most experienced interrogators think that the same information, or better, can be obtained through legal and humane means.

No matter what Mr. Yoo and friends may claim, the real lesson of the Bin Laden operation is that it demonstrated what can be done with focused intelligence work and persistence.

The battered intelligence community should now be basking in the glory of a successful operation. It should not be dragged back into the muck and murk by political figures whose sole agenda seems to be to rationalize actions that cost this country dearly — in our inability to hold credible trials for very bad men and in the continued damage to our reputation.

By: Editorial Board, The New York Times, May 4, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Foreign Policy, GITMO, GOP, Homeland Security, National Security, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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